In medieval Europe, rich and noble peoplesometimes they were buried as if they had just fallen asleep, that is, not in coffins or sarcophagi, but in beds. At the same time, scientists have long puzzled over how and why the tradition of “bed” burial spread from Eastern Europe to Britain. A recent study provides answers to these and other questions. It showed that burial in beds in England began in the seventh century AD, and this rite was considered exclusively female. That is, men were buried in ordinary coffins. The tradition arose with the arrival of Christianity in this territory. Over time, it became a common ritual throughout Europe. But how is burial on a bed related to Christianity in general, and why did women spread this rite?
Why were women buried in beds in England?
In a recent study that waspublished in Medieval Archeology, scientists analyzed 72 “bed” burials in different countries of Europe, from Slovakia to England. At the same time, they immediately noticed that in England only women were buried in beds. This prompted them to conclude that bed burial practice began to spread in Europe at a time when women were actively moving around Europe.
But when and why did women begin to movemore active than men? Scholars attribute this to the history of the Christian church. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, Christianity fell out of favor. England at that time generally became almost completely pagan. By the way, there were no atheists at that time, why people become atheists at all, we told earlier.
The situation changed in the seventh century, when the churchactively began the conversion of non-Christian regions to Christianity. To this end, Pope Gregory I took various measures, in particular, he encouraged marriages between Christian women and non-Christian men. Moreover, Christian women tried to marry men who had a high status in society. They eventually converted their husbands to Christianity, and thus promoted their religion in society.
In search of husbands from among the elite, they wentto various European countries, including England. At the same time, women also brought funeral rites. Therefore, such burials eventually became associated in England with femininity and Christianity.
How the practice of “bed” burials spread across Europe
According to the researchers, the starting point wasburial in Trumpington, which archaeologists discovered and excavated in 2011. Like other "bed burials", it dates from the seventh century. During excavations, scientists discovered the remains of a young woman who was buried on a wooden bed.
The burial was found to contain some unusualgrave goods — a knife, a golden cross and glass beads. There is no information about this woman, but the presence of a cross indicates that she was a Christian. True, the rest of the subjects have nothing to do with Christianity. Most likely they were placed next to the body for the reason that the pagans buried the woman.
Isotope analysis of the remains, which was carried outin three "bed" burials in England, showed that all the women were not local, that is, they did not grow up in Britain. This circumstance explains the fact that only women were buried in the beds. Most likely, the rite was brought to England by a group of women who were related to the church and missionary activities.
As for the very first “bed”burials in Europe, it is dated to the fifth century, and, as we said at the very beginning, it was found in Eastern Europe. Apparently, during the fifth and sixth centuries, the burial rite spread across continental Europe. Moreover, unlike in England, not only women, but also children and men were buried in beds here. For example, under the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, a one-year-old boy was buried on a bed.
Why were beds used for burials?
Now the most interesting one remains undisclosedthe question is, why did Christians in the period from the 5th to the 7th centuries bury people in beds, and not coffins? It should be understood that in those days not everyone had wooden beds. This furniture was a luxury and spoke of the status of a person. Many people slept simply on straw mattresses. As we said above, Christian women tried to look for wealthy husbands from the elite of society.
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In addition, death itself in the Christian religion is notconsidered the final end for man. Therefore, Christians equated it with eternal sleep. That is, people thus emphasized their attitude to death. However, the tradition of burying people in bed did not last long. Subsequently, coffins began to be used for this. Finally, we note that this is far from the most unusual rite. For example, in China it was customary to bury his servants and warriors alive along with the royal person.